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October 2, 2013

The early darkness of a winter evening will be a struggle for Megan and I as it will keep us from releasing the boy to run adventurously through the park. Owen gets antsy when he’s cooped up so, to ensure we fill Owen’s winter with enough activity to burn off his overly-abundant energy, Megan signed him up for both swimming classes and something called Kindergym. Like Monkeynastix, which the boy took last winter, Kindergym is a city-run free-for-all, designed to let toddlers run, jump, hop, crawl and, generally speaking, go wild in a safe (i.e., padded) environment.

While he’ll have to wait a while for his swimming lessons to start, Owen attended his first Kindergym class this past weekend. They might as well hoist a bust of Owen outside the door as Kindergym was chiefly designed for a kid just like him.

For those of you that aren’t hip to the intricacies of Kindergym, it offers kids a variety of obstacles to play on: a couple different slides, a tunnel to crawl through, a crate full of plastic balls, etc. Just the things two-year-olds love to try and hurt themselves on. Whereas these sorts of classes are meant to get your wee one moving and, while it certainly does offer them the sort of exercise they most certainly need, we learned from Monkeynastix that it was Megan and I that did most of the running. One of my earliest blogs detailed a typical Monkeynastix class (you can read it HERE). Suffice it to say, when you put a kid that can’t keep still in an environment that encourages that very kid not to keep still, then it’s not hard to see how Owen ran us ragged.

So it was with a measure of nervousness then that we unleashed Owen into Kindergym. The room was a lot smaller than we anticipated. Monkeynastix was held in a full-sized gymnasium; Kindergym was in a room no larger than an elementary school classroom — and there were far more kids too (sixteen; Kindergym had maybe ten or so… though I was likely too winded to ever properly count the actual number). Also, being the first class, most of the kids were accompanied by both parents and, in some cases, grandparents. It was a tight fit and, once everyone got going, it was dizzyingly warm.

Fortunately, Owen didn’t seem to mind. Think “a duck to water,” “a pea in a pod,” or “an evil genius in his secret lair.”

Owen’s eyes widened immediately when he realized what was about to happen. His attention darted to the basket balls, and then to the slides, and then to the tunnel… I’m convinced that the boy didn’t see anyone else in the room — just the different things he could run in to, fall off of, and throw at people. He stared in bewilderment. There were so many things to do. It was as if he wanted to play with everything at once but couldn’t decide which to start with…. So he just ran around in circles.

Aound and around and around in circles.

He was in his element. He had free reign to run and bounce and hop. The boy’s attention zeroed on a small plastic slide in the middle of the room. Picking up as much speed as he could, he bee-lined to the front of the slide and galloped up the incline to the landing at the top. A little girl was meekly trying to properly ascend the slide using the steps when Owen, already drunk on power and adrenaline, waved his finger at her and said, “No, my slide. My slide. No!”

This would mark the first time Owen was spoken to by the class instructor. “Owen,” — it had been only a few short minutes and she already knew his name — “We don’t climb the slide this way. Use the steps at the back, please. You could get hurt if another boy or girl goes down the slide while you’re walking up it.”

The instructor then cast a scornful look towards me and I was reminded that Owen was to use the steps to climb the slide. As she chided me for my son’s behavior, Owen, confident the little girl that he had scolded was unlikely to encroach on “his slide,” slid down to the floor. The slide had a slight bump in the middle and it sent him airborne for a breif moment before landing him on his bum at the bottom of the slide. Owen squealed in delight and promptly ran back up the slide, bypassing the steps.

This was going to be a long class, I thought.

Deep down, if I’m honest with myself, I‘ve tended to think that my inability to reign in Owen at Monkeynastix reflected poor parenting on my part. Meg and I tried our best to get him to wait his turn for something and he’d either push past the other children or he’d break into tears and devolve thereafter into a full-blown tantrum. Arguably the worst was at class’ end when the kids were expected to sit patiently in a circle and sing songs. While the other chidlren would sit on their parent’s lap and sing Kumbya, Owen would instead run wildly through the nether-regions of the gym, screaming, “Uhhhhhhhhh!!!”

There wasn’t a single child that behaved as irrationally as Owen. To be blunt, he was, at times, a bit of an exhausting car wreck as he would run roughshod over anyone that dared cross him. Much like Monkeynastix, we were told that Kindergym would culminate each class with circle time and that the kids would again be asked to sit and sing in a quiet, respectful manner. And with the room being so small, there’d be no room to hide if Owen decided to be, well, Owen.

Nevertheless, I had no time to worry about that. Owen tired of the slide, and pushed his way past a smaller, slower, and generally in-his-way little boy, and grabbed a ball from the stand at the side of the room. By now the class was alive with toddlers, most passively trying to make sense of their new surroundings. Owen had no intention of making sense of anything and, with ball in hand, scaled a series of padded blocks. The blocks were placed aside each other to form a sort of toddler pommel horse — similarly shaped, but wide enough for them to easily traverse without killing themselves.

The instructor watched Owen scaling the blocks and made her way over to my son. Upon reaching the summit, the boy took his place beside another kid, who bravely stood his ground atop the precipice. The instructor looked at me, looked nervously at Owen and then, again, back at me.

I smiled. I half expected Owen to push the other kid off. Come to think of it, I fully expected Owen to push the kid off. He was smaller than Owen, which was typically reason enough for the boy to be an aggressive thug. That he didn’t had me beaming, proudly. Ignoring that he had, moments earlier, prevented a child from ascending the slide, I wondered if Owen was finally showing growth. I find that assessing you kid’s growth is often marked by whether that child decides to huck another kid from a padded pommel horse. (it’s true, look it up.)

Sadly, however, despite my pride, this would mark the second time that Owen and I were sternly spoken to. “He isn’t allowed on the blocks with a ball,” she said.

Huh?

“He needs both hands free while he’s on the blocks or he might fall and hurt himself.” And with that, she hoisted him back to the ground.

Seriously?

He’s a toddler. He’s probably going to hurt himself walking across the room. Besides, the floor’s padded, he’s safer here than he is at home. This instructor would have a stroke if she saw half the stuff Owen does on our couch in the living room. I feigned a smile and watched as Owen shot past us and on to his next conquest.

I shook my head as, naturally, his instructor had turned away just as my son tripped making his way over to the tunnel. "Good thing he didn't have a ball in his hands," I tought.

Fortunately, the remainder of the class was uneventful: Owen accidentally kicked another child in the face, and the instructor felt compelled to clean the boy’s nose because, in her words, “he was eating his snot.”

Like I said, uneventful.

Megan, in our son’s defense, did say afterwards that the kicking thing was an accident. The other kid’s mother — though possibly frightened that Owen might kick her too — didn’t seem outwardly upset, though I can’t imagine that the kickee was overly thrilled. I’ll take Megan's word on it, but “kicking” and “accident” don’t go hand in hand with my son very often.

As things wound down, all the kids were instructed to, with a parent, sit in a circle at the front of the room. I closed my eyes as Megan held the boy’s hand and made their way to the circle. Owen was sweating and he looked a little winded. Protecting his slide and all that face kicking had clearly taken a toll on him. Megan sat cross-legged and Owen took a seat on his Mummy’s lap.

And he stayed there.

Once I was sure that Megan had our son, and not some other kid, I…. Well, I couldn’t believe it. The group began to sing and were given plastic monkeys to use as props. As each song ended, Owen sat and patiently waited for a new one to begin. He even handed his monkey back without tears and without fuss. In fact, it was some of the OTHER children that were misbehaving during circle time. A couple toddlers fought tooth and nail with their parents and ran about uncontrollably while MY son behaved. One little boy even slapped his mother while Owen meekly sat with his Mummy.

I stood there, staring at Owen in complete disbelief. A friend of ours, whose son is also taking the class, noted that you could tell which kids had spent time in daycare and which ones were at home, full time, all the time. The daycare kids were used to sitting patiently and were accustomed to this sort of structured environment. The others, not so much.

Owen had come a long way since Monkeynastix.

I smiled at my little guy. He was so cute. He had grown so much in the past year. Like Grandma says, “He’s not a baby anymore.” It was then that I noticed the puffy red mark on the kid that Owen had kicked.

Oh well… they can’t grow up all at once!